Curtis Conway Bryant was born in Walthall County on 15 January 1917 and lived most of his life in McComb. He worked for the Illinois Central Railroad from 1940 to 1979, led some unionization efforts among railroad workers, and owned a popular barbershop. In 1954 Bryant was elected president of the Pike County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he led that organization through a challenging period in the 1950s–60s.
Bryant is particularly noteworthy because he provided a link between local civil rights activists and the national movement. After reading an article about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Jet magazine, Bryant asked Robert Moses and other young activists to visit McComb in 1961. Moses stayed at the Bryants’ home when he arrived to begin a new stage of activism in southern Mississippi. Bryant’s barbershop was a popular meeting place where visitors could find African American periodicals and NAACP literature. Bryant and the NAACP welcomed the energy and effort of SNCC workers in helping African Americans attempt to register to vote, and he helped introduce the young activists to numerous people in the area. But Bryant and the NAACP were less comfortable with SNCC methods after the murder of local minister Herbert Lee and a student protest divided parts of the African American community. At that point, according to historian John Dittmer, Bryant was “the man in the middle,” opposed to direct action strategies and especially to the use of children in protests.
In 1964 Bryant was again in the middle of civil rights activism. Members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed his business and several of the homes and churches of civil rights workers. Bryant fired back at the bombers and made clear that he would protect himself. Later that year, Bryant was part of a group that successfully tested the Civil Rights Act by asking for and receiving service at the restaurant of a previously whites-only McComb hotel.
Bryant headed the Pike County NAACP for more than thirty years. His NAACP work earned him numerous awards, including the Aaron Henry Award. He and his wife, Emogen, had two children and numerous grandchildren. After Bryant died in 2007, supervisors in Pike County and McComb proclaimed his birthday C. C. Bryant Day, and the street where he lived has been renamed in his honor.
- Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)
- Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (1981)
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994)
- “Oral History with C. C. Bryant” (1995), Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi, digilib.usm.edu/cdm/ref/collection/coh/id/16249
- Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995)
- Judith Barlow Roberts, “C. C. Bryant: A Race Man Is What They Call Him” (master’s thesis, University of Mississippi, 2012)